Written by Callum Walker
Founded in 1937, Toulouse Olympique have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years.
After their promotion to the Championship at the end of the 2016 season, the French club are now among the forerunners to reach Super League.
If successful, it would end their 16-year long wait to join the promise land after being rejected in 2003 in favour of Catalans Dragons. Toulouse were rejected once more in 2006 for the first round of licensing – which would begin in 2009 – with Salford and the Crusaders being given the nod ahead of them.
Instead, the French side joined the second tier – the Championship – in 2009 until they returned to the French Elite One Championship in 2012. With renewed hope, Toulouse rebuilt and entered the English League 1 in 2016, winning all their games before earning promotion at the second time of asking with victory over Barrow in the League 1 play-off final.
Since then, under the stewardship of former Huddersfield, London and Wakefield utility player Sylvain Houles, Toulouse have established themselves as a stable Championship club. Very unlikely to ever get relegated, the French club are eyeing up a Super League spot. They finished fifth in 2017 and then third in 2018 to qualify the Middle 8s Qualifiers for the first time. Toulouse finished sixth with three wins, just missing out on the Million Pound Game by two points. If this isn’t progress from League 1 then nothing is.
Next on the agenda is to earn that promotion to the top flight. Standing in Toulouse’s way are the likes of Leigh – who beat them 24-16 in round one – Widnes, established Championship sides Halifax and Featherstone, newly-promoted Bradford and York as well as favourites Toronto. A top five play-off system will determine which side becomes a Super League club in 2020 with Toulouse desperate to be one of these five. Led around the field by talisman Jonathon Ford and elusive fullback Mark Kheirallah, there is no reason why the French club cannot finally reach their Super League goal.
Toulouse have also gone about their promotion aims in the right way with 13 of their 24-man 2019 squad being French. The likes of powerhouse prop forward Maxime Puech and skilful halfback Stanislas Robin hail from l’Hexagone. And, with French Rugby League on the rise thanks to Catalans’ Challenge Cup success, more young, French talent is appearing which can only help benefit the game and French clubs such as Toulouse.
Coach Sylvain Houles has only ever been in charge of Toulouse. But, he has enjoyed success with the club in Elite 1, League 1 and the Championship. Is it only a matter of time before he can add Super League to that list.